DrugSense FOCUS Alert #184 Tuesday Sept. 19, 2000

  DrugSense FOCUS Alert #184 Tuesday Sept. 19, 2000

Posted by FoM on September 19, 2000 at 13:39:23 PT
Ottawa Citizen Levels Drug War With Series  
Source: MapInc. 

Press criticism against the drug war increases every day, but rarely is the criticism as honest and sharp as the series "Losing The War On Drugs" by Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen. Over two weeks Gardner published more than a dozen long articles that each shattered central myths of drug prohibition. Read in whole, the series leaves drug warriors with absolutely no defense. Below is the last article from the series, but others are available at: 
Please write a letter to Ottawa Citizen thanking Gardner for his important work. WRITE A LETTER TODAY It's not what others do it's what YOU do  PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER OR TELL US WHAT YOU DID (Letter, Phone, fax etc.) Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlte if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to MGreer Your letter will then be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts and be motivated to follow suit. This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our impact and effectiveness.CONTACT INFO: Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON) Contact: letters EXTRA CREDIT We have a unconfirmed rumor that this important series may have also run in the Vancouver Sun. Please consider send a copy of your letter to them as well Source: Vancouver Sun Contact: sunletters ARTICLE URL: creator Pubdate: Sun, 17 Sep 2000 Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON) Copyright: 2000 The Ottawa Citizen Contact: letters Address: 1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4 Fax: 613-596-8522 Website: Author: Dan Gardner, member of the Citizen's editorial board, Email: dgardner Series: Related: Losing The War On Drugs: Weighing The Costs Of The Drug War, Part 13 THE PROS AND CONS OF PROHIBITION Legalization isn't perfect, but it's better than a drug ban. Humans have used psychoactive drugs in just about every society in every time in history. There has never been, and can never be, a "drug-free world." If drug use will always be with us, it follows that the harms drugs can cause will also remain. There is no "solution" to the drug problem. That might sound resigned, but it's not. We still can, and must, make important choices: Which drug-related harms will society cope with? Some are worse than others. Given the range of possible drug policies we could adopt, which policies will produce the fewest and least destructive harms? We can't choose solutions, but we can, and do, choose our problems. Beginning in the early 20th century, most countries chose the most extreme policy available: Some drugs were banned and their production, sale, or possession made a crime. The people who originally made this choice believed prohibition would create a drug-free Utopia. By that standard, drug prohibition has been a spectacular failure. But the justification for prohibition has evolved. Officials who seriously talk of "drug-free societies" are now rare. Instead, government leaders claim prohibition at least keeps down the rate of drug use and thus limits the damage of drugs. To withdraw the criminal prohibition of drugs, they say, would send the number of drug users and addicts soaring. Society would suffer horribly. As I argued yesterday, I don't believe that's true. There is no substantial evidence that prohibition keeps down drug use. But what if it were true? Wouldn't criminal prohibition then be the best drug policy? The answer is still no. In the broadest terms, there are two basic drug policies: The first is prohibition, in which the production, sale and possession of drugs are crimes. The second is legalization. Although many levels of legalization are possible, most supporters of legalization want a policy that regulates drugs at least to the degree that we regulate (but don't ban) other products that can be dangerous to health. Alcohol regulation is often cited as a model. What are the problems caused by these policies? Which is the least harmful? As my series Losing the War on Drugs has tried to show, the harms caused by prohibition are many and terrible. Third World countries, where illegal drugs are produced, have to struggle with drug lords and traffickers whose staggering wealth is used to corrupt institutions and pay for private armies to murder opponents. Central governments are weakened, fostering unrest. Billions of dollars that could go to development are wasted on futile fights with traffickers and producers. Eco-systems are ravaged by futile efforts to stamp out drug crops. Many people, often desperately poor, are lured by black-market wealth into a business where they risk prison or death. In this way, Colombia stands at the brink of civil collapse. Mexico and other countries on the traffickers' routes have also suffered economic distortions, violence and corruption. In drug-consuming countries such as Canada, police are frustrated by the impossible task of stopping the flow of drugs, so they ask for and get more powers, eroding everybody's civil liberties in the process. Some succumb to the unique opportunities for corruption presented by black-market drugs. Others turn, in frustration, to vigilante justice -- lying under oath, planting evidence and committing other heinous acts to win an unwinnable war. Prohibition leaves users buying untested, unlabeled drugs that are often tainted, fraudulent or even poisonous. It causes the purity of drugs to rise. It encourages users to favour the fastest-acting, most potent varieties of drugs and use them in the most cost-efficient way: injection. It stigmatizes addicts as criminals, pushing them to the margins of society where they can't get the help they need. All of this multiplies fatal overdoses and drug-related deaths, and spreads infections among users. Drug prohibition is a major contributor to the AIDS epidemic. Prohibition fuels petty property crime by forcing addicts to pay black-market prices for drugs. It turns what would otherwise be an ordinary business like the alcohol industry into one run by criminals who settle business disputes with bullets and bombs, turning streets into battlefields. Prohibition gives organized crime its largest source of revenue and power. Prohibition has cost governments worldwide hundreds of billions of dollars. The U.S. government's anti-drug budget is now more than $20 billion U.S. a year. Of that, almost $13 billion is devoted to fighting the production, distribution, sale and possession of drugs. That doesn't include drug-related state and municipal spending on police, prisons and courts that, by one estimate, has topped $16 billion. Canadian governments don't itemize drug-enforcement costs, but there are indications taxpayers are footing an enormous bill. The RCMP alone has 1,000 officers devoted full-time to prohibition. There are drug specialists in all police forces across the country. Add the time spent by regular officers, in the RCMP and all other police forces, dealing with illegal drugs in the course of their duties. And the specialists who fight organized crime, including the many officers who have spent years trying to cope with Quebec's biker war. The customs officers searching for drugs at borders -- and putting a drag on the economy as they slow cross-border traffic -- are also part of the bill. And the forensic accountants tracking money laundering. And the judges and court officials processing almost 70,000 drug charges each year. And the guards needed to watch over the nine per cent of Canadian prisoners behind bars for drug crimes. The loss of fundamental liberty is surely prohibition's greatest harm. These direct monetary costs are only half of what we pay. There is also all the good that could have been done if these vast resources had been available for other priorities. And lastly, there is the fundamental injustice of imprisoning people simply for choosing to take a substance not approved by the state, or for selling that substance to those who choose to buy it. If the right to control one's own life means anything, it must include the right to choose what to ingest. The loss of fundamental liberty is surely prohibition's greatest harm. This is a short summary of a much longer list. But it's enough to weigh against the harms of legalization. If legalization did not cause an increase in drug use -- and I do not think it would cause one -- the argument is over. But what if it did cause a significant increase in drug use? Would legalization inflict equal or worse harms and costs than prohibition? To answer, we must distinguish between use and abuse. Drug-law enforcers refer to all illegal drug use as "abuse," but this is inaccurate. Drug use that does not harm or impair one's health, work or relationships is generally considered mere "use." Consumption that hurts the user or others is "abuse." Most of us recognize the line between "use" and "abuse" of alcohol. Dr. Harold Kalant, professor emeritus in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto and researcher emeritus with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says that alcohol abusers make up between 10 to 15 per cent of the total number of drinkers. Between five and eight per cent of problem drinkers are addicted, he says, while the other alcohol abusers drink in ways that are harmful to themselves or others -- drinking and driving, for example, or binge drinking that interferes with work or family life. That means 85 or 90 per cent of alcohol users generally consume without significant harm. The same line between use and abuse exists with illegal drugs. Dr. Kalant estimates that the ratio of use to abuse of marijuana is roughly the same as for alcohol. But drugs like cocaine and heroin are more addictive than alcohol and so, Dr. Kalant says, instead of a 10 or 15 per cent abuse rate, "you're more likely talking of 30 per cent or more." (Only one drug causes addiction among a majority of its users: nicotine.) That's a rough estimate. Unlike alcohol, we don't have detailed pictures of illegal drug users and the effects of their use, for the obvious reason that users tend to avoid attention. But it appears the majority of users of illegal drugs do not abuse them, and their consumption of drugs, like consumption of alcohol, generally has no serious ramifications. "If you're a light, casual user," notes Dr. Kalant, "you probably don't have any significant health effects." There may be more involved in these numbers, cautions Dr. Kalant, than just the effects of illegal drugs. He says the very fact that some drugs have been made illegal gives them an anti-social image which may attract people inclined to seek novelty and danger. And "people like that," he says, "may be more at risk (of problem use) than others." Thus, the abuse rates we see with illegal drugs may be higher than they would be if the drugs were legal. None of this detracts from the real dangers of drug use. It's difficult for a drug user to know in advance, for example, if he is one of the minority of users who is susceptible to addiction. And some methods of drug-taking are dangerous in themselves; injection, for example, risks infection. And even casual, light use of some drugs may pose small risks of serious harms. Synthetic drugs like ecstacy, for example, haven't been well-studied, but there is evidence that even one dose has, on rare occasions, done grave harm. These risks alone are reason enough to avoid drug use. But the distinction between use and abuse puts things in perspective. In the unlikely event that legalization led to an increase in drug use, the majority of that increase would be casual use; health and social consequences would not be daunting. Those who see drugs as a moral issue may still consider an increase in casual use unacceptable. But for people concerned only with limiting the individual and social damage of drug use, such an increase should not cause great alarm. How many people are having a Saturday night toot of cocaine doesn't matter nearly so much as how many people are ending up in the morgue. Current drug policy cares far too much about the former, and not nearly enough about the latter. The American government, for one, celebrates the fact that casual cocaine use is down from its peak -- while staying remarkably silent about the fact that drug-related deaths are at a record high. Of course, a rise in casual drug use might also be accompanied by a smaller rise in addiction. That would obviously be a major concern, but that, too, must be put in context. As I tried to show in this series, most of the horrific harms that we now associate with addiction -- overdose deaths, crime, homelessness, infections, marginalization -- stem for the most part from the criminal prohibition of the drugs that the addict depends on, not from the drugs themselves. Eliminate prohibition and these harms will go as well. This is not to treat addiction lightly. Even with legal access to clean drugs and good health care, addiction is a serious burden on health and relationships. But addiction would not mean, as it so often does now, squalour, fear and early death. With the proper health care and social programs, individuals and society could cope. It would not be an overwhelming crisis. So let's compare the harms of two drug policies, prohibition and legalization. Prohibition inflicts a horrendous cost, in lives and suffering and wasted effort, all over the world. And legalization? Even under the false assumption that it would cause an increase in drug use, legalization would lead to an increase in casual use, perhaps accompanied by a rise in addiction; the former would inflict modest personal and social harms, while the harms of the latter would be more painful but still manageable. Which policy causes the least harm? For anyone who looks at the question intently and honestly, the answer is clear. A 1998 letter sent to the United Nations by hundreds of statesmen, Nobel laureates, and drug experts put the answer bluntly: "We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself." That's a conclusion that more and more public health experts, researchers, and even politicians are coming to as well. "The criminalization of drug use does not achieve the goals it aims for," said Dr. David Roy of the University of Montreal when he and others released a major report in 1999 looking at drug use and AIDS. "It causes harms equal to or worse than those it is supposed to prevent." In 1933, Americans came to exactly that conclusion about the attempt to ban alcohol. They remembered the real harms done by alcohol before it was banned in 1920. But they also saw that those harms weren't nearly as terrible as the damage done by Prohibition itself. Being able to contrast the two situations, Americans decided to legalize alcohol. We can't draw on personal memory as Americans did in 1933, but we can look carefully at the evidence. It's a difficult task. It may mean uprooting comfortable assumptions and old ways of thinking. But so many have needlessly suffered and died. More will follow. Surely we owe them at least the willingness to try. SAMPLE LETTER To the editor of the Ottawa Citizen: I don't understand how anyone who read all of Dan Gardner's series "Losing the War on Drugs" could possibly still support drug prohibition - unless they were making a living from it. As encyclopedic as the series was, the horrors of the drug war continued to rise to even more extreme levels. Here in the U.S., a police officer killed an innocent 11-year-old boy in the midst of a drug raid last week. Even more young people will die in Colombia as U.S. military aid is unleashed. Prohibitionists often say their crusade is worthwhile if just one child is saved from the horrors of drugs. But as Gardner proved, no one is being saved by prohibition. Some day the drug warriors need to sit down and count how many real children have died in an effort to protect that single symbolic child. Stephen Young IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone number Please note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work. ADDITIONAL INFO to help you in your letter writing efforts 3 Tips for Letter Writers: Letter Writers Style Guide: TO SUBSCRIBE, DONATE, VOLUNTEER TO HELP, OR UPDATE YOUR EMAIL SEE: TO UNSUBSCRIBE SEE: Prepared by Stephen Young Focus Alert Specialist Focus Alert Archive   Media Awareness ProjectPorterville, CA 93258(800) 266-5759 Contact: Mark Greer (mgreer Webmaster: Matt Elrod (webmaster You can read the entire series at: CannabisNews Articles In The Series:The Pros and Cons of Prohibition: Can't Keep a Banned Drug Down: Leading The Way To Smarter Drug Laws: Police To A War That Can't Be Won: Drugs, Indecent Profits: The Drug War is Eroding Our Civil Liberties: Our Drug Laws Harm Us More Than They Help?: on Drug Smuggling Destructive and Senseless: Launched The 30 Years' War as Election Issue: Borders Don't Stop Illegal Drugs: Trade Rots Away Mexican Society: Long As There Is Demand, There Will Be Supply: The War On Drugs Has Failed: 

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Comment #1 posted by Occassional Pot User on September 19, 2000 at 15:07:45 PT

Dan Gardner rocks

His series is great. I have read almost all of the articles. It's time America wakes up and stops corporate and government greed which is keeping this war going.
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